The NSW government has just announced new plans to change laws
and regulations governing fracking that will make it more important
than ever for landholders to get good legal advice if their land is
targeted by coal seam gas miners.
The controversial gas extraction method called fracking involves
forcefully injecting a mix of water and chemicals to fracture the
rock above coal seams and allow miners to extract the gas that had
There is a great deal of concern that the process contaminates
groundwater and the land surface with potentially hazardous
There has been an outcry about damage caused to valuable and
productive farm land, but in the past landholders have been unable
to completely block licensed miners exploring their land for
potential gas seams.
The miners do have to get a Land Access Agreement with
landholders that governs conditions of entry to the land. But they
can't be stopped forever. Miners have to cover costs of the
landholder to get legal advice.
If miners find gas the landholder can't stop them drilling
and extracting it. Landholders don't get any money for gas
under their land, but they are entitled to compensation for damage
caused to surface land.
Premier Barry O'Farrell promised during the election to
fence off prime food-producing areas from miners. But his new draft
plan falls far short of that pledge. In areas defined as
"strategic agricultural land", miners and drillers will
have to get approval from a new "independent" scientific
panel before a development application can be lodged.
Independent legal advice will be sorely needed as it's
unclear what qualifies an area as "strategic" farmland.
The science panel will be appointed by the NSW Planning Minister,
so its independence can be questioned. Maps prepared so far show
only four per cent of the rich agricultural lands in the Upper
Hunter Valley and New England Tablelands meet the criteria for
extra protection. Next to be mapped will be the Southern Highlands
and the mapping will eventually cover all of NSW.
The only bit of good news in the plan for landholders who want
to stop drilling on their land is that they will be able to fight
their case in court for free. Mining companies will have to meet
all legal costs for farmers who object to mining on their land.
With the government wanting the revenue from gas extraction, it
makes sense for landholders to get their own legal advice to
protect their property and the water they depend on.
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It is a common misconception that the grant of mining tenure, whether it be an Exploration Permit, Mineral Development Licence or Mining Lease, will entitle the holder to access all land within it in order to explore or mine.
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